The Meaning of Higgaion and Selah

J. D. Conley
April 17, 2016

The reader of the book of Psalms will encounter the terms above and wonder about their meaning. Since these words are part of the inspired Word of God they ought to be read and understood, instead of glossed over and ignored. Consider first the meaning of the word:

"Higgaion" This word occurs only once in the Divine aggregate of God's Word making its lone appearance in Psalm 9:16, where it stands next to a Selah. "Higgaion is a word that we have left untranslated because its meaning is uncertain. It may be a musical term calling for an interlude of '"resounding music'" (Leupold 114). "Higgaion... evidently calls for music... for the sound of a stringed instrument" (Tyndale, Vol. 3, 1296). Because the word has been left untranslated an absolute definition of Higgaion is unattainable. Nonetheless, the translators of the New King James Version felt compelled and justified to render "Higgaion" as "Meditation." This may be close to the actual meaning since meditation is almost synonymous with the meaning of Selah. As best as can be determined Higgaion is a musical phrase calling for a crescendo of music which in turns fosters thought and meditation.

"Selah" This too is "an isolated word occurring seventy-one times in the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk" (Eerdmans 1158). Selah is a musical pause whereas Higgaion is a musical interlude. Whereas the Selah calls for silence, Higgagion calls for sound. Other than this difference, the purpose for both terms is to produce meditation and deliberate thought upon what has just been sung/played. Selah has been likened to Amen or Hallelujah. Adam Clarke wrote, "Selah] This is the truth" (668). The meaning of Selah has also been compared to the Lord's admonition, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:15).

Armed with the understanding of these obscure words, read them and adhere to what they stand for, which is a careful meditation over the truth that has just been set forth. The whole of God's Word should be listened to, but when the Holy Spirit interjects Higgaion or Selah, which denote emphasis, the reader needs to carefully ponder the teaching enjoined.